Does your desire for change itch or burn?


Two weeks ago, I received a newsy email from a former client. Dan gave me the scoop on his life and new love, and ended by saying that while work had improved, he was feeling the itch again to go after career change. He would soon give me a call for some personal coaching sessions.

I replied nicely to all his news, and on the itch, I said: "Call me when it's a burn."

Why this tough love response?

I meet scores of professionals who are unhappy with their work. In almost seven years, I've never seen an individual make a significant shift unless there is a burning desire to change.

I've never seen an individual make a significant shift unless there is a burning desire to change

You must have a clear articulation of the personal gain you see for yourself at the end of the career-change rainbow – and this personal gain must be greater than the pain of staying in place. I didn't want Dan to waste his time, energy, or for that matter, money.

So, how do you know if you're feeling an itch or a burn?

Itches are usually situational. A confrontation with a fellow worker; a poor performance review; a disagreement with your boss; environmental stress. Itches create lots of smoke, like "I can't wait to get out of here." or "This is it. I'm leaving." But no focused action towards change.

And these "reaction" moments are often followed by patches where work is really okay – an interesting project in the works, shared good feelings.

In other words, the motivation to change is externally driven. It waxes and wanes based on what is happening in one's environment. All of us have career itches at one time or another.

Burns go much deeper. They are itches that don't go away. They've been around for a long time (a year or more) and they have wrenched your value system to the point that:

  1. You can no longer compartmentalize work vs. life.
  2. You find it almost impossible (maybe even terrifying) to drag yourself out of bed on Monday mornings.
  3. You go through the motions at work – your feelings are completely disconnected from your work activities.
  4. Your energy hits the skids; you get sick a lot or have difficulty shaking a common cold.
  5. You may feel hopeless or a little (or a lot) depressed.
It's a significant difference, don't you agree? Itchers have a quite a few avenues for regaining their balance – setting firmer workplace boundaries, finding a fulfilling outlet outside of work, engaging in physical and emotional self-care that allows you to better shrug things off.

Burners – you can do these things, too, but it's probably not your ultimate fix. A value system pulled apart is only mended when there is a re-alignment between body, mind and spirit. For burners, career change is not an option – it's a requirement.

Take some time off to re-gain your energy and perspective. In this more relaxed state, figure out how to get some help. Your Employee Assistance Plan? Mentor or understanding colleague? Initially, don't try to solve the entire problem – just map out a few next steps and give yourself a timetable. Your world will brighten simply as a result of putting yourself in choice and action.

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About The Author

Patricia Soldati
Patricia Soldati

Patricia Soldati is a former President & COO of a national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1998. As a career fulfillment specialist, she helps corporate professionals enhance their working lives – both within the organization – and by leaving it behind.

Older Comments

I couldn't agree more with the itch versus burn scenario. I've had many 'itches' over my career. I am now experiencing a definite 'burn'. It's time to make the change. You describe my situation very well Patricia.

Dan Skiendziel Michigan, USA

Thank you for this article. I love the phrace itch or burn. With your permission, I am sure to use the question 'is it an itch or a burn' frequently from now on. In my line of work people discuss their frustrations with their work situations with me. It is often tempting to go the 'just change jobs route' which is more fun to coach around, but it is my responsibility to help people find the solution that serves them best, and that with an itch they always have the choice to make changes.

Jacinta Hin Japan

How true. I made lots of noise about changing jobs--until I was asked to leave it. I would rather have been proactive than reactive. Lessons learned. Thanks for the great info you make so readily available!


I loved this article. I am right at this point (yet again) in my life where the itch is so familiar and the burning is actually taking place. I liked what Patricia said about looking at what you would gain from the change, whereas I often focus on the discomfort and the fear of the change. That little comment has given me fodder for where I am. I will take and use it to create 'carrots' to go towards instead of the things I fear from moving out of being a wage slave to a business owner! Thanks!

Lisa Sutherland-Fraser Melbourne, Australia

Hello all. I am at this moment working for a company wich has set unrealistic targets in sales. So unacheavable no one within the company has the requierment that are needed to fill new vacancies in new stores (they are all to do with meeting targets for the last six months).

I am already at the top of the internal sales leauge and the managers and area managers all know that I am one of there best.

I am so sick I am willing to move on, leaving the company if another position came along. I have ten years in retail sales wich go unnoticed because of my lack of qualifacations. My success has came from my ability to sell, build a rapport with customers, solve problems, being open and honest, meeting customers needs and working hard.

So what is it that I can do to get past this problem and move on in life and stop this burning need to do bigger better things?

Trevor Reece Newcastle